It was Super Tuesday – the day the Republican madness was supposed to end. A whole bunch of state primaries would settle matters – the inevitable Mitt Romney would win big, or large, or at least somewhat decisively, somewhere, and Newt Gingrich would return to bragging about his fine mind and big ideas on the speakers’ circuit and in many new books, like his many previous books, no one would read. And Rick Santorum, the scold and prude who lost his senate seat long ago in a massive landside, for the other guy, would become obscure once again. Yes, Newt had promised that the day he took office gasoline would drop to two bucks a gallon or so, and by the time he left office we’d have a massive colony on the moon that might even be the fifty-first state. But no one believed him. He just says things. And yes, Santorum promised to annul all gay marriages the day he took office, and end all federal and state aid to education, and do something about birth control, as contraception was not okay (God said so) – and he would discourage kids from going to college, as that was snobbish, and anyway, those were places where reason was valued over faith, ruining young people – and there was the stuff about outlawing all prenatal care, as screening for potential problems leads to abortions – and the stuff about how women should not work but stay home with the kids – all that stuff. We weren’t going to have to hear about that any longer. That would be a bit of a relief. But of course we’d miss Ron Paul with all his ideas – abolishing the Federal Reserve and returning to the gold standard, and ending all foreign entanglements, and getting rid of any regulations on most any human behavior, allowing Americans to buy cheese made from raw milk of course – and all the rest. That was fun and he is a pretty cool guy – odd, but at least gracious and open and sunny, and real, as they say.
But he’d disappear too. We’d be left with Mitt Romney – awkward, ruthless and purposefully inscrutable – and as inauthentic a politician as America has ever produced – both absurdly rich and happily oblivious to others, with a giant well-rehearsed false grin for everything. He does have good teeth.
Of course the heart and soul of the party – the born-again evangelicals and the end-all-government Tea Party folks – despise Romney. He’s the Mormon who had been governor of a disgustingly liberal blue state – Massachusetts of all places – and his signature achievement had been a universal healthcare plan there – a government plan, no less – which was the very model for vile Obamacare. And he seems uncomfortable talking about Jesus and doing what God wants. They do hate the guy. But beyond the party’s fervent core there are those who might be called casual Republicans. To them he wasn’t so bad – he made a ton of money and that counts for something – and he might beat Obama. Those were the folks who remembered what happened with Goldwater in 1964 – the nation was offered a choice not an echo. And that choice scared the crap out of America. We like echoes. You know what you’re getting. No one is going to do anything too stupid.
The question is which side of the party would prevail here, but this Super Tuesday cleared up very little:
Mitt Romney won five Super Tuesday states including the big prize of Ohio, while Rick Santorum took three states and Newt Gingrich grabbed a vital triumph in Georgia… The showing made it a good night for Romney, padding his front-running delegate total, but lacked the convincing showing he needed to demonstrate his ability to generate support among diehard conservatives.
In Ohio, Romney took a late lead of more than 12,000 votes over Santorum with 96% of unofficial results counted, and it was clear Santorum would be unable to overcome the difference. Even if Santorum had managed to win the Ohio vote, he wouldn’t get a majority of the delegates because his campaign failed to properly register them in some districts.
But the problem is the non-urban deeply religious Deep South and like-minded states:
Santorum’s victories in the Tennessee and Oklahoma primaries and North Dakota’s caucuses demonstrated his continuing strength among conservative voters, while Gingrich’s win in the state that sent him to Congress allowed him to keep his campaign going.
Santorum and Gingrich live on. The core of the party is with them, although not quite:
The Santorum victories in conservative bastions of Tennessee and Oklahoma also hurt Gingrich’s Southern strategy after the former House speaker’s triumphs in South Carolina and now Georgia, which both border Tennessee.
They like Rick more than Newt. Newt may be dead now, although that may not matter to him. He likes to mix it up with the others, just for the sheer joy of it. But that aside, Talking Points Memo puts the party’s dilemma this way:
But the big question is about narrative: will tonight be enough to put an end to a long primary slog that just about everyone agrees is hurting Romney who will, unless something incredible happens, be the Republican opponent for Obama in the fall? Romney, whose general poll numbers are at almost historically toxic levels for a front-running candidate, needs this primary to end – fast.
His rivals want it to continue. …
This is like watching a slow-motion train wreck, but one that actually never ends. There’s no pay-off. And Andrew Sullivan live-blogged this particular evening and came away with this:
Santorum won three states and basically tied in Ohio. That keeps him afloat with some forward direction, especially given the upcoming primary states where Santorum has a demographic edge. The fact that he did this well despite being buried by Romney ads and money in Ohio is a real achievement. Romney, for his part, still cannot win blue-collar votes and still cannot nail down evangelical support. He comes away with many more delegates, but few bragging rights. In Ohio, he won everywhere Obama will win in the fall.
If Newt bowed out, we might have a real contest. But he won’t. So we have, perhaps, the worst of all possible worlds for the GOP: a front-runner who cannot be stopped, but who is losing altitude against Obama with every vote, and being slimed by Republican rivals for at least another month. Even his stump speech has deteriorated. And his unfavorables continue a relentless rise.
And of course Newt Gingrich should get out of the way now:
Outside of Georgia, Mr. Gingrich is running in third place or worse in all states that have reported results so far. He is behind Mitt Romney in Oklahoma and Tennessee, and has only about 15 percent of the vote in Ohio — not enough to receive proportional delegates there, which would require a 20 percent margin. Nor has he shown any sign of life in the caucus states.
But that’s the statistician Nate Silver talking. Gingrich doesn’t care about the numbers. He won two states – Georgia and South Carolina – and he’s happy. But Jonathan Chait summarizes Romney’s night:
To summarize: Romney has won his home state (MA), a liberal state that borders his home state (VT), and a state where his only opponent was Ron Paul (VA). He’s lost everywhere else.
This was a bad night all around, and Sullivan adds this to the mix:
If Romney couldn’t win anywhere in the South or West, what’s gonna happen next Tuesday, when Mississippi, Alabama, Missouri, and Kansas vote?
And David Frum thinks about Santorum and Goldwater:
People are comparing this to 1964. But let’s remember that Barry Goldwater WON his Senate seat in 1958.
And Santorum’s big advantage with the party core might be misleading:
According to exit polls, Democrats constituted 5 percent of the Ohio primary electorate, and 45 percent of them voted for Mr. Santorum. Just 25 percent voted for Mitt Romney. That translates roughly into a 1 or 2 percentage point bump for Mr. Santorum.
Who is voting for whom here? And what does it all mean? Jon Tobin considers that:
Romney will rightly claim that any result that leaves him much closer to the delegate count he needs to be the nominee is a big win. And if he can combine that with taking Ohio – an outcome that is still very much in doubt at the moment – it will be reasonable for him to spin Super Tuesday as a triumph for his candidacy. However, Santorum’s victories in Tennessee and Oklahoma not only will pump new life into the Pennsylvanian’s campaign, the results also reinforce Romney’s problems with conservatives. Rather than spending tomorrow talking about Romney’s inevitability, the discussion may be more about his continued difficulty in closing the deal with his own party’s base.
Sullivan puts it nicely:
Santorum has won far more states than Newt – and across the country. If Newt weren’t the massive, gelatinous blob of self-loving he is, he’d get out of the way and force Romney to compete alone against his main competitor, Santorum. Santorum’s wins are more impressive because he was so massively outspent by Romney in every contest. That’s what he’s bragging about now. And given his ability to win the evangelical base, and to rally the white working class, I think he’s as electable as Mitt Romney up against Obama. His strengths match Obama’s weaknesses. Romney’s strengths are outmatched by Obama’s.
And he points out that David Frum sees it much the same way:
This is shaping up as a scary night for those who think that Mitt Romney is the only conceivable Republican nominee in 2012. The Republican Party does not agree. Not winning Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma… that’s troubling. There’s still no path for anybody else to the Republican nomination. But ouch, ouch, ouch, what a bumpy path for the guy it’s going to have to be.
And Sullivan adds you should also factor in this – Romney losing the “moral character” vote and the “true conservative vote” and the evangelical vote and the votes of those who earn less than fifty grand a year. The internals of the exit polls are dismal for Romney, as is this:
The percentage of voters who said they “have reservations” about the candidates they voted for was at least a third in each of these states: Ohio (41 percent), Oklahoma (33 percent), Georgia (37 percent), Tennessee (41 percent), Virginia (40 percent) and Vermont (36 percent).
And from the Wall Street Journal’s coverage:
Voters offered words such as “disillusioned” and “frustrated” to describe how they felt about the nominating process. Many worried the prolonged primary fight is helping President Barack Obama’s re-election effort.
Ah… yes. But how did Obama so cleverly set this up?
And on the far right there’s Allahpundit:
Since we’re rapidly approaching the moment when criticizing Romney will be treated as high treason on the right, go ahead and read this excellent Dan McLaughlin piece at Red State analyzing Mitt as a salesman for conservative policies while you still can. The bottom line: He’s not going to win any converts. If the GOP takes back the White House, it’ll be because Obama somehow blew it, not because Romney talked centrists into embracing moving right.
But don’t count on Obama blowing it. That’s not worked for anyone yet. Ask Hillary.
And Joan Walsh has an interesting take on what happened on this Super Tuesday:
The Republican base lives in a parallel American universe where people are unfazed by Rick Santorum’s remarks about JFK, college and contraception. They aren’t concerned about what the GOP candidates say or don’t say about Rush Limbaugh’s filth. They are unimpressed by Mitt Romney’s alleged electability. Admirably – and I don’t admire much about today’s Republican electorate – they don’t like the rich guy who’s trying to buy this race.
And that’s what happened here. Walsh calls it Romney’s worst night ever:
When the race began in January, he was given the Iowa caucus win (though it later turned out he lost to Santorum.) No one expected him to win South Carolina. The night Santorum swept Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado wasn’t a good one for Romney, but Santorum ran hard in those states and he mostly didn’t.
Super Tuesday represented a late chance for Romney to restore his supposed invincibility – and he failed. As I write, NBC is calling Ohio for Mitt Romney, after Santorum spent the whole night ahead. Romney lost Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota to Santorum, even after his advisors were suggesting a Tennessee win was possible, and would prove their man could carry the South.
Even where he won, it wasn’t pretty – Ron Paul got 41 percent of the votes in Virginia, where Newt Gingrich and Santorum weren’t even on the ballot. Romney decisively carried Massachusetts – his actual home state – and Idaho, where the electorate is heavily Mormon, indicating he’s able to win states with a lot of Mormons and states that he’s claimed as home, and not much else.
And she does admit she had previously read this wrong:
Like most political analysts I was convinced that Santorum had blown his slim chance at the nomination by stalling his own momentum with his JFK slur and dumb remarks about college. Maybe those things hurt him in Michigan last week – or maybe he was never going to overcome the fact that it was one of Romney’s 174 “home states,” plus Romney’s money. (It’s worth noting the far-right Catholic lost the Catholic vote to Romney in Michigan, and in Ohio, too.) Then he lost his commanding lead in Ohio, too, as Tuesday’s showdown approached, and it was looking like he was done.
But he’s not done. Romney’s not done either – he’s got too much money to be done – but things look grimmer for him after these 11 races. Newt Gingrich is done – but he doesn’t seem to know it yet. Winning his home state of Georgia (whew!), he gave his nuttiest (and I think longest) speech yet, featuring a reference to the other candidates as “bunny rabbits” to his tortoise. He purports to be in the race to stop Mitt Romney, but if Gingrich was out, the former Massachusetts governor would be in mortal danger of losing the nomination to a right-wing former senator who lost Pennsylvania by 18 points.
But at least Santorum isn’t trying to buy the race. He doesn’t have the cash, and he keeps saying so. The underdog will play out your resentments for you, and win. And there’s little Romney can do to counter that. He can’t spend more money. That would only prove Santorum right. It’s a trap.
But she’s not sure it matters all that much, as the last two weeks have been awful for Republicans:
Rush Limbaugh’s misogyny doesn’t seem to have played any role in Tuesday’s vote – but it will in November. As we watched election results, we learned that J.C. Penney had dropped Limbaugh. This afternoon, he expanded his attack on Sandra Fluke to go after “young, single, white women” who are “over-educated.”
Most GOP primary voters Tuesday were male; most voters in November will be female. (Especially if Santorum’s the nominee; he lost women to Romney in Ohio; unmarried women overwhelmingly, 45-28.) Everyone’s talking about the dangerous gender gap that’s opened up for the GOP, with women flocking to the Democrats as this assault on their rights continues. I think we’re also seeing the emergence of a profound character gap. The notion that neither Romney nor Santorum nor Gingrich could find a way to rebuke Limbaugh for his obscene jihad against Sandra Fluke is troubling. That none of them could find a way to express the appropriate revulsion is proof that hate has poisoned not only their party’s brand, but their moral center.
It’s another GOP election night, but the only winner is President Obama.
And there will be more of it. Super Tuesday was supposed to bring all the craziness to an end and give us the Republicans’ candidate. But no, not yet – and as they struggle to work this out, one way or another, the nation will become more amused than impressed, and then more bored than amused, and then really irritated, and then angry. Watching slow-motion train wrecks that go on and on is pointless. There are other things to do, and Obama gets another four years, because this just isn’t interesting any longer. And maybe it never really was.